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Ellacoya Sees Deep Packets at Shaw

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
4/26/2005

Shaw Communications Inc. said Monday it is deploying the Ellacoya Networks Inc. deep packet inspection (DPI) platform, which it will likely use to launch multi-tier pricing targeting the varied bandwidth usage habits of its subscribers (see Shaw Picks Ellacoya) .

One of Canada's largest cable providers, Shaw sells video, voice, and data services to roughly 3 million subscribers and claims to have a better than 50 percent take-rate where its service is available.

The Ellacoya DPI platform will be used to prioritize bandwidth usage among applications in Shaw’s network. “Ellacoya provides Shaw the reporting visibility that allows us to understand the use of the network backbone and then apply service changes and network policies,” said Shaw president Peter Bissonnette [ed. note: pronounced Bissonay?] in a statement.

But Shaw is also likely to be looking at the potential for several tiers of pricing. DPI technology is often used by data service providers to develop pricing plans that closely match the application and bandwidth usage habits of subscribers. For example, those that want higher performance for gaming and video applications would have to pay more, in a tiered pricing model.

“Our product allows the provider to know which subscriber used which application for how much bandwidth at what time throughout the day, throughout the week, throughout the month, and throughout the year,” says Ellacoya marketing VP Ben Legault.

The amount of bandwidth a given subscriber uses is often tied to the kind of applications he uses, Legault says. A group of heavy peer-to-peer file sharers can use large amounts of bandwidth and degrade network performance for more mainstream users of email and Internet access.

So if the provider learns from the data that a certain demographic really only uses email and Internet access, it might offer a low-priced “light” version of its data service.

Ellacoya’s e30 IP service devices are being deployed at 50 points along the access layer of Shaw’s network (usually in network hubs), where they are constantly conducting DPI on traffic going to or coming from user end points. The devices have a 2-unit pizza box form factor and support a line rate of 2-Gbit/s in and 2-Gbit/s out (see Ellacoya Unveils Product, OEM Deal ).

“We dive into the packet up to the application level, and we look at the content and identify whether the bits being transmitted between the two end points look like an HTTP session or actually look like Kazaa traffic,” Legault says.

The devices constantly report back to a “usage collection database,” which creates reports and in some cases may dynamically apportion bandwidth in oversubscribed areas of the network, Legault says. The devices can also be used to prioritize applications. For example, real-time apps like voice and games would be given first dibs on bandwidth, while unattended apps like file sharing and FTP would be last in line.

There's been a growing interest in packet-inspection and content management technology, especially since Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) last year raised eyebrows with its $200 million purchase of P-Cube (see Cisco Plucks P-Cube for $200M, P-Cube: We Can Kill Zombies , and Cisco Completes P-Cube Acquisition).

Ellacoya, which was started way back in 2000 (see Ellacoya), has gone through several management teams and markets along the way, but in the last couple of years it's buckled down and refocused on the content networking and deep packet inspection needs of cable companies. Competitors of note include Sandvine Inc. and Caspian Networks Inc. (see Carriers, Step Up Your Game and Sandvine Announces Another Customer). Recently it raised another round of financing (see Ellacoya Stands Alone). Terms of Ellacoya's contract with Shaw were not disclosed.

— Mark Sullivan, Reporter, Light Reading

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